Friday, March 27, 2020

What do House Finches like to eat?

House Finches are small songbirds found across the United States, extreme southern Canada, and into Mexico. They are grayish-brown and heavily streaked. The males have red foreheads, breast, and rump which the females lack.

These common birds are found in residential and urban backyards, as well as near water in arid regions of the West and Mexico.

House Finches are highly attracted to bird feeders where they eat a variety of seeds. Their favorite, though, is black oil sunflower seeds. Keep reading to see what else they like to eat and what kind of bird feeders they like. There is something else you can add to your yard to make the House Finches happy!

This page is a supplement to my overview page on Attracting House Finches to your backyard. When finished here, please go back to that overview page to find more information and links to other in-depth articles on the range and habitat of House Finches, identification and similar species, and courtship and nesting.

Photo of male House Finch eating sunflowers at a feeder
House Finch
Photo by Greg Gillson

Diet and natural food

Throughout the year, about 86% of what House Finches eat is weed seeds, according to The Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Thistles and dandelions seeds from fields and vacant lots are mentioned by most authors. Other seeds mentioned include wild mustard, knotweed, mulberry and poison oak.

In fall, House Finches like to eat fruit, too. It seems that they sometimes do damage to orchards. There they may eat peaches, apricots, plums, and cherries. Mulberries are a wild fruit they eat.

House Finches eat a very few insects. In fact, their vegetarian diet is so strong that they even feed seeds to their nestlings.

In spring, House Finches eat blossoms and buds from many varieties of plants.

House Finches at the backyard feeder

Foods to attract House Finches

House Finches will eat many varieties of bird seed. By far, though, House Finches love black oil sunflower seeds! They prefer it twice as much as striped sunflowers and hulled sunflower seeds. [See my article on what birdseed birds like best.]

Another seed House Finches really like is Niger seed. They will also eat safflower and white proso millet. You can buy a good quality mixed birdseed (lots of black oil sunflowers, little or no milo). You may try a "finch" blend that will contain sunflower seeds and Niger seed.

House Finches may eat corn, peanuts, and milo, but they don't like these nearly as well as the seeds above.

At your feeder you may try cut up fruits. Cherries are a favorite. You might try cutting up apples, peaches and nectarines, too.

House Finches eat suet occasionally and even bread crumbs.

Black oil sunflower seed is generally about $1 per pound in quantity. Here is a variety from Amazon that is of good quality and usually priced competitively.

What is the best bird feeder for House Finches?

House Finches aren't too picky about the kind of bird feeder that you use. They come equally well to platform, hopper, and tube feeders.

They may get less competition from other birds at the tube feeders, though. Here's a 16 inch tall tube feeder from Amazon that will hold up to 1 pound of sunflower seeds.

House Finches will readily come to window feeders. They are not as wary and skittish as some other feeder birds. If they get startled away, they will quickly return. Click here for a whole selection of window feeders from Amazon for you to choose from.

Feeding and foraging behavior

House Finches tend to travel around in small, loose flocks. Flocks in size of 5 to a dozen birds seem to be the most common. So when they come to the feeder it is usually as a group, not single birds.

They tend to be noisy and active at the feeder, calling and chirping and jumping around. They are a little bit flighty--but if chased from the feeder by another, they usually fly to another spot on the feeder or a nearby perch. Then they return immediately.

When eating, House Finches chew to open the seed husks. Then they use their tongues to remove the seed kernel and swallow it. They allow the seed husks just to fall out the sides of their mouths. This results in empty seed shells in the feeder tray or on the ground under the feeder. These should be cleaned away regularly.

House Finches regularly feed on the ground. They may clean up some of the spilled seed under the feeder. Usually, though, they feed from the feeder.

Photo of a male House Finch bathing in a bird bath
House Finch bathing
Photo by Greg Gillson


House Finches really love to drink water. 

A 1956 paper (source) describes several experiments on House Finches in California and water consumption. At 39 degrees Celsius (102 degrees Fahrenheit) the birds drank and average of 40% of their body weight in a day. Amazingly, some birds drank 100% of their weight in water in a 24 hour period. The average water consumption at 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit) was 20% of body weight. during this time they were feed only dry mixed bird seed.

Then those experimenters took away the water and birds survived for a week with no weight loss on dry seeds and succulent vegetables (celery tops, apples, and lettuce).

House Finches love to bathe, too. So you should provide shallow water for them to bathe in. They don't mind bathing in taller bird baths, or on the ground.

Here is a link to birdbaths on Amazon. Check out all the varieties here.

Back to the overview page on attracting House Finches to your backyard.

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